As a liberal arts student living in my happy little bubble of uncomplicated wonderment, I have always found internships to be a somewhat befuddling phenomenon.
When I was an undergrad, I’d laze around my dorm room during spring semester reading Catullus or Cicero and sipping the finest red wines that could be found on sale in a cardboard box at the Target in stately Mishawaka, Ind.
My colleagues, on the other hand, would be frenetically making phone calls, printing resumes and asking people in the hall to drill them with hypothetical interview questions at all hours of the day and night.
“Wait, wait, wait, let me change my clothes first,” one might say at 3 a.m. on the eve of some mass-interview event or another.
They’d be clutching a sheaf of transcripts and reference lists in one hand and a half-consumed energy drink in the other.
“I need to get used to discussing my aspirations for the future in the socks I’m going to be wearing to the internship fair.”
The quixotic quest for these supposedly profitable, unpaid positions has never quite made sense to me. The idea that working for free each summer in order to get a job after graduation seems strange, especially considering that I — perhaps naively — thought that the whole reason we were supposed to spend four years in college in the first place was to get a job.
I do have to confess that parts of interning strike me as pretty sexy, perhaps in part due to depictions in media. You get to wear a tie all day, as I understand it, and I assume the organizations issue you some sort of fancy, official-looking security ID badge to clip on your lapel.
I’ve always wanted a badge. I think it was some famous philosopher who once said, “You know you’ve made it when you have a card with your picture on it clipped to your chest.” They don’t give us ID badges in the graduate school. Or at The Collegiate Times.
But those long and arduous weeks — or months — of stress preparing for career fairs and on-campus interviews — all to be better able to throw your peers under the bus as you ferociously compete against one another for the opportunity to earn… $0 an hour — seems bizarre.
I understand the notion of being paid in experience, but couldn’t one hypothetically get experience while, you know, concurrently being paid? Like, in money?
As much as I would enjoy having solid references and my foot in the door somewhere, I’m not sure that I could convince my landlord to accept my rent payments in “experience” — even if it were with a Fortune 500 company. Granted, that is an assumption. I do admit that I haven’t inquired about their policies relating to alternate currencies.
I think ultimately the wild popularity of internships among college students comes down to really good, subversive marketing. Corporations want labor and they want it for nothing. But pesky things like laws and bad public relations keep them from forcefully extorting free 40-hour workweeks from their usual staff.
But convince a population of skilled workers who have three months with nothing to do that working for free is a great deal — “You’ll definitely land a job with all this experience working without compensation; just ignore your generation’s 1-in-4 unemployment rate” — and suddenly you have smart and capable students stabbing one another in the back for the opportunity to change toner cartridges and fetch dry-cleaning.
Well, as you might imagine, I never got an internship. As a classicist, I just don’t have the skills to compete in such a fast-paced 21st century business environment. I can never even get the damn printer in Shanks Hall to work. Now I spend my days reading and writing and talking about reading and writing, though the compensation is perhaps not what one might call lucrative.
And my constantly interning cohorts? Well, at least a few of them live in high-rise condos and have fairly well-paying jobs that I have heard involve frantically filling out Excel spreadsheets no one looks at, hunched in fabric-lined cubicles and chugging tepid, hours-old coffee.
I don’t have any regrets.